Planning And Route: Tightly sandwiched between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan lies India’s mystical state of Sikkim. This little mountain kingdom with its green valleys, fluttering prayer flags and lofty snow-capped peaks is often referred to as the last Shangri-La. Sikkim’s location in the Himalayan foothills means that driving through this state always offers fascinating views of its step-cultivated mountainsides, its two mighty rivers the Rangeet and the Teesta, and its rosy-cheeked people. This drive across East and West Sikkim are filled with refreshing views and intoxicating crisp mountain air.
Sikkim is a pleasure to visit all year round. But roads tend to get blocked by landslides during the monsoons from June to September. The state also sees a lot of tourists during the Pooja vacation in October. We would recommend you visit Sikkim during April, May, November and December. Carry woollens all year round. While most places in East Sikkim (Gangtok) accept credit cards, the relatively smaller towns of West Sikkim do not.
Your car's clutch will see a lot of punishment. Ensure that it is strong as the inclines are steep - there are times when you will need to stop and start on inclines. Tyres which have seen a lot of wear should be replaced before you drive into Sikkim. Remember that the roads here are narrow and there are a few bad sections where stones will easily pierce the rubber of worn-out tyres. Check tyre pressure every two days while you are in Sikkim.
The National Highway from Kolkata to Siliguri is absolute torture immediately after the rains - during October and November. Drive very cautiously as there are huge craters that will spell doom for your car's rims if you hit them hard. Even the smooth sections are not to be trusted as potholes appear suddenly without a warning. If you are running tubeless tyres, be very careful as a dent in the rim will render the tyre useless. It is advisable to carry spare tubes. Even oncoming traffic swings onto the right of the road in a desperate measure to avoid huge potholes. Watch out for that. Break your journey in Siliguri for the night and then continue to Gangtok the next day. The road from here on is brilliant. Constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), it is adequately signposted and smooth for most of the 110km from Siliguri to Gangtok.
Driving in Sikkim
Traffic in Gangtok is very well organised. There are traffic police at every junction and they regulate traffic with clockwork-like precision. Hence though Gangtok is full of narrow slopes like Manali and Shimla, the traffic is always smooth-flowing. Traffic rules are religiously followed by the local populace. Cars need to be parked in the right direction. Lane breaking or dangerous overtaking attracts hefty fines. MG Marg in Gangtok is closed to traffic from 5pm to 9pm.
The state highways are quite narrow in places - always blow your horn when you go around corners and keep to the left. There are times when you'll need to back up so that an oncoming vehicle can pass within a hair's breadth of your car. In instances like this don't panic. Ask someone to get out of the car and guide you so that you don't put your tyre into a ditch or over the edge.
A PRISTINE STATE
The most striking part about Sikkim is its cleanliness and the sense of discipline and order that exists in the state.
The Public Works Department goes out of its way to keep Sikkim like that and they have a set of requests for locals and tourists:
Try to carry back all your litter to your hotel for proper disposal.
Request permission before photographing people.
Always walk around monasteries or chortens in clockwise direction.
Use of plastic is strictly prohibited.
Use water sparingly.
Discourage trade in wildlife products or religious artifacts.
The plucking of flowers anywhere in the state is absolutely prohibited.
Do not throw stones downhill as it could set off a landslide.
Issue: 166 | June 2013
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